For the third season running, a home first-leg loss proved too much for Arsenal to overcome in the Champions League last 16, as they crashed out after a 2-0 win in Monaco saw the Ligue 1 side progress on away goals. Tasked with becoming the first team in the history of the Champions League era to come back from a two-goal deficit in the second leg away from home, Arsenal were given hope when Olivier Giroud finished at the second attempt nine minutes before halftime. And, despite their impetus dipping in the second half, a dramatic finale was ensured when substitute Aaron Ramsey struck with 11 minutes remaining to draw the tie level on aggregate at 3-3. But the hosts did just enough to hold out and reach the quarterfinals, leaving Arsenal to reflect on a fifth straight failure at this stage of the Champions League.
Against a Monaco side that fell into a trap of passivity, Arsenal can take credit from the intensity and quality of their play. If they had played as they did at the Stade Louis II at the Emirates, they likely would have been in the quarterfinals. Yet that is as much an indictment of Arsenal, who so often fair so much better when the pressure is off.
There was much talk of admirable failure after bowing out to Bayern Munich in the past two seasons despite a win and a draw in Germany. Surely that cannot be allowed to wash this time around. Having been dumped out in the Round of 16 to Barcelona, Milan and Bayern, a meeting with Monaco was an undoubted opportunity to return to the Champions League’s true business end. Instead, under Arsene Wenger’s charge they have again failed to progress and make the step up to the elite to do justice to the considerable resources now at their disposal.
For all Arsenal’s surging form in the Premier League, the 3-1 defeat to Monaco on home soil was an all too recognizable calamity that it would have been unwise to overlook even if Arsenal had pulled off a comeback on Tuesday. As it is, Wenger is again left with serious questions to answer about his capability to get Arsenal back to the heights he guided them to in his first decade in charge. Ultimately, it was the injury-time goal at the Emirates, as Monaco caught Arsenal recklessly and familiarly surging upfield, that proved decisive.
Monaco’s formidable defensive record at home in recent months, conceding just one goal in their last 11 matches, always made Arsenal’s task to make history a formidable one. But as is so often the case, the team with the advantage became overly preoccupied with simply holding their lead. The organization was there, but Monaco lacked intensity in their play, both with and without the ball, for much of the contest.
Arsenal, with Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck and Giroud all in the lineup, took a while, but gradually set about taking the initiative. Welbeck was crucial for the visitors, injecting pace and directness into their passing play. And it was a through ball from the former Manchester United man that helped give his side the lead. Giroud, who missed a host of chances in the first leg, had already seen a half-chance go begging in the return before he reacted well to his first effort being saved by Danijel Subasic to fire high into the net over two covering defenders.
Arsenal piled on the pressure for the remainder of the opening 45 minutes, but couldn’t get a second goal that would have really put the doubts in Monaco’s minds. And the interval benefited the hosts, who, with their opponents struggling to regain their high tempo, threatened an unconvincing Arsenal backline for the first time.
When Ozil drove wide of the target, the match looked like petering out toward its conclusion. But Ramsey again delivered a clinical touch to renew Arsenal’s hopes. After another substitute, Theo Walcott, side-footed against the foot of the post, Monaco full-back Layvin Kurzawa cleared horribly straight to the feet of Ramsey, who steadied himself and found the corner of the net. Monaco were wobbling, but Arsenal’s last chance came and went as both Giroud and Sanchez tried to turn a free-kick goalward and Subasic clawed desperately off the line.